South Australia gives business tender touch

By Paul Hemsley and Julian Bajkowski

The South Australian government is sending local businesses back to school to learn how to successfully tender for government contracts.

As the push for local businesses to get a bigger slice of the procurement pie increases, Premier Jay Weatherill has committed funding of $60,000 for the state’s chamber of commerce, Business SA, to develop a training package to fill knowledge gaps among businesses and make them match fit to win public sector deals.

The funding injection is intended to help Business SA deploy a new “Tender Ready” program for suppliers by collaborating with industry associations to create a scheme that successfully trains local companies to understand sometimes complex tender processes and assessment criteria.

The training is also being pushed by South Australia’s Minister for Small Business, Tom Kenyon, as many local companies grapple with the prospect of the decline of the once powerful auto manufacturing industry and look for alternative buyers to stay in business.

The issue of state governments directly supporting local industry by encouraging them to win public sector work has prompted vigorous debate over recent years as highly centralised procurement models like shared services and multi-agency outsourcing deals are gradually unwound in favour of smaller, more tailored deals.

Over the last five years, state governments in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia as well as Canberra have all gradually moved away from ‘big bang’ deals that typically favoured large multinational suppliers after a string of audits and review raised serious questions over whether they can deliver value for money.

South Australia’s latest shot at helping local businesses get their foot in the door of government buyers is similar to the Queensland government’s “Tendering for Government Business Workshop”, where participants are expected to learn the “art of developing and submitting tenders”.

A big challenge for many smaller businesses has been that the cost of preparing tender bids can sometimes act as a disincentive to seeking government work, leaving the lion’s share of work to larger companies with deeper pockets.

But there are now signs that governments are listening.

South Australia’s plan follows calls from the Office of the Industry Participation Advocate to address gaps in knowledge among businesses as it works with enterprises to identify their potential weaknesses.

The Industry Participation Advocate is also looking at whether weaknesses that are identified are systemic or result from a lack of capability.

Mr Kenyon announced the $60,000 funding for the Tender Ready program at the first of a series of “Meet the Buyer” events in Adelaide hosted by the Office of the Industry Participation Advocate.

So far unique to South Australia, the Advocate’s role was created in February 2013 to review impediments to local participation in government contracts and work with local business and industry associations to increase the number of companies able to meet government tender requirements.

Mr Kenyon said the Advocate’s office has received regular feedback from local companies wanting better access to government agencies before tenders were even put out, so they can make their case to win more work.

“Small business is telling us that understanding what agencies want and producing better tender documents is often a barrier to winning work from government,” Mr Kneyon said.

“The new program will assist businesses to draft better tender responses, how to demonstrate value for money and innovation in bid responses and how to make better presentations and interviews to assessment panels,” Mr Kenyon said.

Business SA’s chief executive, Nigel McBride said better access to government work would make the difference between a “very tough future” and one that created a platform for growth and creating local jobs for many small to medium sized South Australian businesses.

“I welcome this as an important step towards delivering a truly level playing field for SA businesses to get access to the substantial goods and services budgets held across State Government agencies,” Mr McBride said.

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